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Renewing the Mandate 

for Design Excellence in 

America's Public Realm 

Thomas Walton 




Public Service Design Abroad 

A three-day conference organized by the National Endowment for the Arts, 

Design Program, with support from the General Services Administration, Public 

Buildings Service, the Department of the Interior, National Park Service, and the 

Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. 

December 8-10, 1993 
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. 

Reprinted from Places, A Forum of Environmental Design 
Volume 9, Number 2 • Summer 1994 

© 1994 The Design History Foundation 

110 Higgins Hall 

Pratt Institute School of Architecture 

200 Willoughby Avenue 

Brooklyn, NY 11205 


Pride and Stewardship: 
Renewing the Mandate 
for Design Excellence in 
America's Public Realm 

Thomas Walton 

The commentaries accompanying this arti- 
cle are edited from discussions and presen- 
tations that took place during "Public 
Sen-ice Design Abroad, " a conference 
organized by the Xational Endowment for 
the Ans in December, 1993. 

Thomas Jefferson's "academical vil- 
lage" at the University of Virginia, 
with lawn terminated by library and 
flanked by single-story dorms. 
Courtesy Catholic University of 
America, School of Architecture. 

Background: L'Enfant's plan for 
Washington, D.C., turned the 
Baroque style to democratic ends. 
Courtesy Catholic University of 
America, School of Architecture. 

We refer to those who led the American Revolution and helped establish 
our country as the Founding Fathers, individuals who hold a unique place 
in history because they articulated principles that, even today, are cited as 
the groundwork for our democracy and national character. Their legacy 
touches on our principles of government, economics and individual free- 
dom. Less recognized is their commitment to design excellence, most 
notably in the development of key public buildings and spaces. 

Sophisticated architecture, landscapes and household objects are often 
a sign of personal wealth, power, education and social status; they also 
comprise part of our cultural legacy. But when Thomas Jefferson wrote 
that "Design activity and political thought are indivisible, "' he seems to 
have been arguing that design could be a means of conveying the values 
and priorities of a democratic nation. Thus, Jefferson's architecture sought 
to put Americans in touch with the ideals of the Enlightenment. His state 
capitol in Richmond, Va., for example, borrowed from the elegant propor- 
tions and details of the Maison Caree, an ancient Roman temple he had 
seen in his travels through southern France. 

Jefferson was equally aware that issues beyond style had to be addressed 
in the quest for democratic design. This is why his scheme for the Uni- 
versity of Virginia is especially significant. A central library (whose profile 
was inspired by the Roman Pantheon) is surrounded on each side by a sin- 
gle story of colonnaded dorm rooms and five larger pavilions designated 
as classrooms and faculty housing. The buildings frame an open, tree- 
lined hillside that continues to be used as a magnificent outdoor room for 
strolling, recreation, study and contemplation. Jefferson's com- 


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(Top row) Oakland federal buildings (National Endowment for 

the Arts); Corpus Christi, TX, bus center, tiles made by local 

residents (© Project for Public Spaces); Vietnam Veterans 

Memorial (NEA). 

(Second row) Perspective from City Beautiful-era plan for 

Chicago (Catholic University of America); Benjamin Franklin 

birthplace monument (NEA); Zurich, Switzerland, train station 

(Donlyn Lyndon). 

(Third row) National Gallery East Wing (NEA); Metro Center 

Station, Metrorail, Washington, D.C. (Hanan A. Kivett), Statue 

of Liberty National Monument poster (NEA). 

(Left) Hotakubo Housing, Kumamoto, Japan (Fumihiko Maki). 

Charleston, S.C., customs house. 
Courtesy Catholic University of 
America, School of Architecture. 

Romanesque main entrance 
of Washington D.C.'s Old Post 
Office. Courtesy Todd W. Bressi. 

Main court. World's 

Columbian Exhibition, 

Chicago, 1893. Courtesy 

Catholic University of 

America, School of 


position, which he called an "academical village," expressed a defiant confidence in the 
future of the fledgling country. It seems to have captured important aspects of the 
national character — a love for and desire to master open space, a scale that invites 
individual exploration, a sense that all are welcome. All this underscores the notion 
that in a democracy, quality design is a universal standard that could infuse even the 
tiniest hamlet with enduring beauty. 

Jefferson's architectural interventions established the fact that good government 
could and should be reflected in designs that incorporated pride and democratic values 
as well as cost and function as priorities. Styles might vary project to project and from 
era to era, but the principle that public servants should be stewards of architectural and 
landscape excellence for the benefit of all citizens was clear from the earliest moments 
in our history. 

Sharing this conviction, George Washington commissioned a plan for the new cap- 
ital city, Washington, D.C., in 1791. Pierre L'Enfant's Baroque program cleverly trans- 
formed an order associated with royalty and centralized government power into a sym- 
bol of democracy. Broad, diagonal boulevards linked the prominent sites selected as 
the seats of the three branches of government; they also connected a generous number 
of circles and squares designated as public open space for District of Columbia citi- 
zens. Washington also endorsed open competitions as a method for soliciting designs 
for the White House and Capitol building. 

During the nineteenth century, both the country and the federal government were 
growing. To facilitate the government's expansion, the stewardship of design was trans- 
ferred from the domain of presidential patrons to professionals in the Treasury 
Department's Office of the Supervising Architect. New customhouses, post offices and 
courthouses became symbols of economic vitality and civic pride in communities, large 
and small, in every corner of the country. Often, these were the most prominent struc- 
tures in a community and, especially in the west, were intended to reflect the inevitabil- 
ity of America's manifest destiny. 2 These commissions received special attention from 

Norris Dam, a project of the fed- 
erally-chartered Tennessee 
Valley Authority. 
Courtesy Todd W. Bressi. 

both Congress and local citizens, politicians and the press; people might have disagreed 
on details of budget, style and design, but seldom on the need to develop a distin- 
guished project. Comments by Acting Mayor John L. Sneed at the cornerstone cere- 
monies for the Frankfort, Ky., courthouse and post office in 1884 reflect this senti- 
ment. He pointed out how the building would "prove a handsome ornament to the 
city," and then noted warmly how the townspeople "fully appreciate and are duly grate- 
ful that this evidence of national prosperity has been placed within our limits." 3 

Back in Washington, D.C., the litany of nationally significant undertakings was 
highlighted by construction of the State, War and Navy Building, the Pension 
Building and the Library of Congress. A chaste Neoclassicism was initially the favored 
style but, as tastes changed and design matured from a gentlemanly endeavor into a 
distinct profession, each supervising architect attempted to provide his own definition 
of excellence. A more eclectic collection of profiles and facades, from Second Empire 
to Italianate to Romanesque Revival, came to be the norm. 

State and local governments were also increasingly active in the arena of public 
design. Many impressive state capitols were built during this era, and the architecture 
of city halls (Philadelphia's exuberant Second Empire edifice comes to mind) started to 
complement federal structures in terms of quality, grandeur and civic pride. 
Communities across the country, inspired by the vision and leadership of landscape 
architects like Frederick Law Olmsted, either improved or created parks whose pas- 
toral designs reflected the long-simmering tensions between the nation's agrarian and 
urban roots. Bridges, street lighting, paving projects and millions of dollars of other 
infrastructure investments helped reshape muddy towns into modern cities. 

By the late 1800s, notions of public design had matured into an American Renais- 
sance. The emphasis on single elements was replaced by a holistic view that combined 
architecture, landscape, ceremonial streets and neighborhood amenities — much of it 
a response to what many people perceived to be the ugly and chaotic results of laissez- 
faire urban and industrial growth. The inspiring World's Columbian Exposition, a 
temporary yet startlingly elegant "white city" of Classical buildings, parks and prome- 
nades became the prototype for other fairs, civic centers and urban planning proposals 
developed in the early twentieth century. Elaborate urban designs for Chicago, Wash- 
ington, D.C., Cleveland, San Francisco and even Manila (capital of the Philippines, a 
U.S. territory after the Spanish-American War) followed. And in 1901 Beaux Arts 
design was officially blessed by the supervising architect as a matter of policy: 

The Department, after mature consideration of the subject, finally decided to adopt the clas- 
sic style of architecture for all buildings as far as it was practical to do so... . The experience of 
centuries has demonstrated that no form of architecture is so pleasing to the great mass of 
mankind as the classic ... and it is hoped that the present polity may be followed in the future, in 
order that the public buildings of the United States may become distinctive in their character.* 

World War I, shifts in tastes, changing economic circumstances and a new sense of 
social purpose spelled the end of the American Renaissance. During the depression in 

Former San Jose post office, now an 
art museum, with recent addition at 
right. Courtesy Todd W. Bressi. 


Illustrative map of 
Public Works Administra- 
tion projects. 
Courtesy Todd W. Bressi. 

PWA-era courthouse in Boulder, CO. 
Courtesy Todd W. Bressi. 

the 1930s, public stewardship of design excellence expanded into a host of new areas. 
With hope of reducing unemployment, improving the quality of life in communities 
and restoring pride in America, the federal government created an alphabet soup of 
innovative (and controversial) New Deal programs — the Public Works Administra- 
tion, the Works Progress Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps and the 
Federal Arts Project among them. These agencies launched countless projects, from 
airstrips, swimming pools and schools to slum clearance, housing, dams, interior 
design, graphics, painting and sculpture. 

While this dramatic scope of work was subsidized with billions of federal dollars, 
most programming and design were turned over to local leadership. This shift encour- 
aged stylistic diversity, including experiments with Modernism, and significantly 
reduced the supervising architect's influence. New Deal programs presented a unique 
opportunity for the federal government to enhance the quality of public design — 
from urban planning, architecture and landscape, to interior and graphic design — in 
ways that went well beyond the vision of any previous period in our nation's history. 

Contemporary Challenges 

Today, the federal government is the largest consumer of design services in the 
United States. But while the demand for public projects has grown, design priorities 
and criteria have shifted. Once public agencies sought a reasonable balance among 
pride, democratic values, aesthetics, function and cost; now they shortsightedly focus 
on function and cost. Even when public agencies contract with designers based on the 
quality of their portfolios, projects must be executed within tight, often unrealistic 
budgets and at the lowest possible price. Agency heads know what happens when they 
make exceptions to the minimum-cost rule and are scrutinized by the media and 
ultra-sensitive taxpayers. 5 


Regaining Confidence in Public Service Design 

A conference about design as a public 
service carries with it an assumption 
that the public sector has value. It also 
assumes government has a responsibili- 
ty for the welfare of its citizens and can 
improve their circumstances. 

However, in a democratic society, 
government cannot function without 
general agreement about the legitima- 
cy of its actions, especially if it is to act 
as a patron of design. In a society beset 
by increasing tribalization, such consen- 
sus is difficult to achieve. Rather than 
becoming a global village, we have 
become segregated into various cultur- 
al components, each of which seeks 
legitimization of its own point of view 
at the expense of all others. We are no 
longer required to interact with others 
simply because they are fellow citizens. 

In Europe cities are taken seriously 
as an integral part of a nation's self 
image. In America, we can find no com- 
parable optimism; the word "urban" 
has become code for social unrest and 
disorder. Similarly, "public" is a pejora- 
tive — public schools, public housing 
and public transportation are all regard- 
ed as inferior to those in private hands. 

This is coupled with a recurring cyn- 
icism about government and its ability 
to solve problems and deliver services. 
The voting majority assumes projects 
sponsored by government are inherent- 
ly wasteful and inferior to what can be 
accomplished by the private sector. Gov- 
ernment is often perceived as a police 
force, not as an agent of change. 

Added to this is the emphasis televi- 
sion places upon product, distorting the 
purpose of professional life. It is now 
assumed designers make products 
whose primary significance lies in their 
value as determined by the market- 
place. Brand name recognition, a con- 
cept first applied to consumer products, 
is now sought by design professionals. 
Sir Richard Rogers spoke scathingly 
about the architecture of the market- 

place, denouncing the mindset that 
regards a building solely as profit-mak- 
ing devices, conceived to last for 20 
years and then be replaced. That mind- 
set is completely inconsistent with the . 
idea of public places: Government is 
badly represented by structures made 
by a disposable culture. 

Against this complex and negative 
background, the conference considered 
an astonishing range of activities. 
Architecture, planning, art history, pub- 
lic art, advanced technology, trans- 
portation, environmental issues, graph- 
ic design, restoration and real estate 
development were all discussed. And in 
all of these presentations it was 
assumed that public meant good. 

In fairness it should be noted that 
government in the U.S. can mean good. 
Distinguished restoration efforts 
remind us of the splendid buildings that 
have been built by our government in 
earlier times. Unfortunately, we get 
somewhat sentimental about how suc- 
cessful our restoration of these build- 
ings has been, failing to note that if we 
took better care of our buildings, 
restoration wouldn't be necessary in 
many cases. 

A positive recent development is 
the use of public-private partnerships to 
solve problems. By building consensus, 
creating new alliances among different 
groups and tapping different sources of 
funding, these partnerships have real- 
ized projects that the public and private 
sector have lacked the financial muscle 
or leadership to achieve by themselves. 
Such approaches can expedite results 
and achieve quality more surely than 
conventional systems of management. 

Our society must identify a common 
purpose so that the patient, civilizing 
work of building confidence in the pub- 
lic realm can begin. While the grand 
dreams and visions of the fifties and six- 
ties now seem sentimental and misguid- 
ed, it is not sufficient to say a larger, 

more generous idea of society is impos- 
sible for this generation. 

Our great resources of wealth and 
talent can be used to construct a new 
definition of the public sector, one that 
enhances our common experience and 
provides the leadership now irrationally 
expected from democratic ideals. We 
must recognize that we have a common 
destiny, sharing interests the economic, 
cultural and social future of America. 
Nowhere is this more evident in the 
architecture of the public realm. 

— Hugh Hardy 

Atrium, Los Angeles Central Library 
renovation and expansion. 
Courtesy Hardy Holzman Pfieffer. 


Pyramid atop underground addition to the Louvre, Paris. Courtesy Todd W. Bressi. 

Design in the total context is one of the 
most strategic economic tools a country 
has. Those countries that have recog- 
nized this have done very well by it. 
Look at what the Japanese and Germans 
did in the automotive industry during 
the 1970s and 1980s. They captured 
large shares of markets worldwide. 
How? They did it by design, absolutely. 
We see European and now Japanese 
railroad companies today offering solu- 
tions to the U.S. by design. We see J.C. 
Decaux tackling an area of great con- 
cern, and again it's through design. If 
there's anything that designers in this 
country should be concerned about, it is 
why we haven't maximized our design 
potential in this country. We have excel- 
lent design capacities but have not fully 
utilized them. 

— Robert Blaich 

Ellis Island Main Hall. 

The entrance canopy 
was added during the 
restoration. Courtesy 

National Endowment 
for the Arts. 

In truth, Americans have always been healthily skeptical about government power 
and spending. But today, we seem to have litde understanding of the value and mean- 
ing of investing in the public realm. The importance that post-war development pat- 
terns, both suburban and urban, place on the private realm is the clearest evidence of 
our abandonment of public places. Increasingly, Americans are moving to places where 
the streets, infrastructure and open spaces that once bound us together are under pri- 
vate control — in some communities, even city hall is moving to the shopping mall. 
This has not only had profound consequences for our landscape but also weakened 
support for attentive, meaningful design in what remains of the public realm. 

Not everybody has given up. In several European countries and Japan, quality 
design in the public realm appears to be the norm. Last December, to explore why this 
is the case, the National Endowment for the Arts convened a symposium, "Public 
Service Design Abroad." 6 U.S. public officials and designers listened to the experi- 
ences and saw the results affected by their international colleagues. The three days of 
presentations and discussion pointed towards several lessons for renewing the 
American commitment to public design excellence. 

Lesson One: Recognize that Quality Makes a Difference 

The voices at the forum were quite diverse. Speakers came from France, Japan, the 
Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and other countries. They included business execu- 
tives, government officials and designers. And they shared thoughts not only on archi- 
tecture, planning and urban design but also on graphic and industrial design — 
reminding us of the wide range of disciplines that shape our public environment. 

One maxim was repeated again and again: The quality of public design can make a 
tremendous difference. Good design can enhance the presence of the public realm and 
the value people place on it. It can encourage citizens to nurture their involvement in 
society — to become active not only in public places but also in art, culture and politics. 

The speakers illuminated many cases in which design has been integral to the success 
of public places. Raymond Turner, the British Airport Authority's design director, 
described how London Transport's carefully planned and executed design program 
(which touched everything from stations to vehicles to uniforms to posters) sustained the 
transit system's identity, respect and popularity for much of the twentieth century. Josep 
Acebillo, planner and architect for Barcelona, emphasized that public investment in 
infrastructure like parks, plazas, highways and communication networks can be a catalyst 
for private investment and universal pride. Jacques Cabineau explained how the French 
policy of staging design competitions for public projects has resulted in better architec- 
ture because the program and goals for a building are more thoroughly researched 
before design begins and because a broader range of talent has access to commissions. 

Clearly the public benefits when government — at the national, regional and local 
levels — explicitly promotes design excellence. In the U.S., government has a uniquely 
wide range of opportunities to do this — there are myriad agencies at the national, 
regional and local levels that either develop projects on their own or fund projects 
sponsored by others. The case studies from abroad indicate that it is still possible for 
government to exploit design as a way to instill pride, improve the level of public ser- 
vice and deepen the appreciation of the public environment. 

Seville's train terminal is a 
striking example of the use of 
light to express movement 
and space. Courtesy Ortiz and 
Ortiz Architects. 

The U.S. General Services 
administration has started 
staging competitions for the 
design of federal buildings. 


Excellence in 
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What would happen if we had a day 
without design? How many of us think 
about design as an integral part of our 
life or as a convenient part of our life? 
If we could raise the public's conscious- 
ness about design, whether as profes- 
sionals or as individuals, or whether 
government takes responsibility for 
conveying the message, that might help 
build a cohesive design culture. 
— Alan Brangman 


1 1 

Public Design, Public Education 

(Below) Street signs in New York 
City not only identify historic dis- 
tricts but also help build a con- 
stituency for historic preservation. 
Courtesy Todd W. Bressi. 

(Right) The Environmental 
Simulation Center in New York City 
enables citizens and planners to 
explore alternate scenarios for archi- 
tectural, planning and urban design 
proposals. Courtesy Regional Plan 

Q.: In the U.S. there are few places 
where the average person can get 
information regarding public projects. 
Can't we disseminate more information 
about specific buildings as they are 
going up and when they're completed? 

Joan Goody: Using construction 
fencing as a series of changing exhibits 
would be an excellent, informative 
way to inform passersby about the his- 
tory of a building and what was being 
done at the time. This could be written 
into the contract of every government 
project, that there will be money for 
some sort of elaboration presented on 
the construction fencing and some sort 
of exhibit when the project is over. 
Architects love to show off, and you can 
get them to do that pretty cheerfully. 

Donlyn Lyndon: One point at which 
people do become interested in archi- 
tecture is when a project is about to 
appear on their doorstep. If every pro- 
ject that the federal government spon- 
sored could have within it a require- 
ment that there be some piece of infor- 
mational, educational prepared is 
placed on public display, that would 
reach a lot of people. 

Beyond that, I think we tend to look 
at public reviews and workshops as 
troublesome processes that we have to 
get through. I would urge that we 
begin to look at those processes as 
opportunities to build a level of under- 
standing about what's going to hap- 
pen. Often when a group that is 

opposed to a proposal comes to a meet- 
ing, its members are not ready to listen 
to the other side. With patience, you'll 
find that a public body that is hearing 
arguments and can be changed in the 
way it thinks about a project. All of that 
public interaction, all of that discussion 
generated by freedom of speech, helps 
us learn more from each other. 

Roger K. Lewis: One practice that 
has been fairly successful in the suburbs 
and exurbs is the charrettes that Andres 
Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk have 
led. They are architects, but they mainly 
plan towns and subdivisions. Their 
mode of operation is to organize multi- 
day workshops and, very intentionally, 
to invite the participation of anybody 
and everybody who might have an 
interest or concern with the fate of a 
particular piece of land. This not only 
produces a plan but also is a process of 
enlightenment and education. When 
the plan is put up on the wall every- 
body can look at it and feel a little bit 
of ownership. 

Sir Richard Rogers: Government 
should set an example not only by com- 
missioning public buildings but also by 
increasing an awareness of architectural 
culture among all age groups. All cities 
and regions should have a forum where 
members of the public can make their 
opinions clear to architects and to the 
government. This should be addressed 
in education and school curricula — not 
that there should be a subject called 
architecture, but curricula should 
informed by interrelated subjects like 
geography, history, technology and art. 




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Lesson Two: Establish Leadership and Build a Design Constituency 

Two complements to developing a rationale for design quality are establishing leader- 
ship and a building constituency for outstanding public design. This can involve not 
only government officials but also designers and individual citizens who have a variety 
of options for influencing design. 

Innovative leadership can emerge from many quarters. Sometimes it clearly rests in 
the hands of an individual. The Kumamoto, Japan, "Art Polis" program, in which 
leading architects from around the world are being commissioned to design some 50 
public facilities, was launched by the prefecture's former governor, Morihio Hosokawa. 
In The Netherlands, the design of many government projects is overseen by an 
appointed state architect; Barcelona's remarkable transformation in the last decade was 
orchestrated by Acebillo and city architect Oriel Bohigas. 

In Europe, government agencies and public service corporations often take the lead 
in sponsoring extraordinary design. The Dutch Postal, Telegraph and Telephone 
(PTT) system uses design to communicate its cutting edge position in the communica- 
tions market. Its facilities are as inviting as they are efficient. Its presence in the com- 
munity in the form of postboxes, public telephones and vehicles has been developed to 
improve the streetscape and reduce clutter. Its general commitment to quality in 
everything from forms to uniforms, from high-tech equipment to artwork, speaks 
about a successful, people-oriented, can-do attitude that helped PTT make the transi- 
tion from a government agency to a profit-making private organization. 

Even with aggressive leadership, quality public design flourishes best when there is 
a public that demands and appreciates it. The French competition system has stimulat- 
ed a lively debate concerning public architecture. Moreover, it has become the norm 
to have cities and towns graced with the most innovative and extraordinary public 
structures. British architect Sir Richard Rogers, a designer of the Centre Georges 
Pompidou, commented that "culture is the fourth strongest vote getter in France, 
where design is simply part of the political discussion." 7 (One could imagine Rogers 
wished there was a similar kind of enthusiasm in England.) 

In France, there really is a cultural vote. 
President Francois Mitterand, in a pri- 
vate conversation, once said to me, 
"You have to remember, Mr. Rogers, 
that culture is the fourth biggest vote 
getter. " I've been trying to figure out 
what the other three are ever since! 
Until we make architecture a vote get- 
ter or a critical part of the political dis- 
cussion, then it will be very difficult to 
put architecture where it should be. 
When I say architecture, I mean the 
built environment, but it can also be 
the green environment. 
— Sir Richard Rogers 

(Above) Logo for The Nethe- 
rlands Postal and Telecommuni- 
cations Services; PTT postbox. 

(Left) Paris' Pompidou Center 

was a presidentially-sponsored 

project whose design was chosen 

through a competition. Photo by 

Martin Charles, courtesy Richard 

Rogers Partnership. 

The Keeper of the Street 

Street furniture is now considered to 
enhance the streetscape, and advertis- 
ing is no longer perceived as a visual 
pollution, but more as a factor that can 
enliven the streetscape. Our company's 
philosophy is based on two main ele- 
ments. The first is to invest in good 
design by working with the top archi- 
tects and designers in the world. The 
second is to invest in maintenance, 
which is the key element to the success 
of any street furniture program. 

We hope San Francisco will be the 
first U.S. city to have our street furni- 
ture, including automatic public toilets 
that will be accessible to everyone, even 
those with disabilities. We would like to 
have newsstands and integrate in those 
public service kiosks some interactive 
video systems where people on the 
street will be able to make transactions, 

such as buying tickets to see the Giants 
or paying parking fines. 

One of our major goals is to help 
reduce street clutter — for example, 
news racks, those little boxes that are 
placed at intersections. In San Francisco I 
counted 23 boxes lined up at one inter- 
section. The First Amendment is a good 
one, but it makes it impossible for cities 
to get rid of these boxes. The solution is 
to have them integrated in the vertical 
kiosk like a soda vending machine. 

Most people in the cities where we 
work today have the impression that 
there is no vandalism because they 
never see a bus shelter or kiosk that is 
broken. There is a lot of vandalism, but 
we repair it so often that people don't 
notice. Our experience is that when you 
clean the equipment often, and don't 
let the glass panels remain broken for 

more than 24 hours, the rate of vandal- 
ism goes down. 

Every piece of street furniture is 
checked every day, and we clean each 
piece at least once a week. In 
Amsterdam, we have graffiti busters, 
people on motorbikes who can remove 
graffiti more or less immediately. We 
also developed a "pooper scooter," 
which can collect dog pollution on any 
sidewalk, grass, in public parks. In Paris 
we collect 3.5 tons of dog pollution 
every day with 120 bikes. 

Street furniture wouldn't work if 
there weren't a maintenance service to 
take care of it. If a nice piece of design 
is being vandalized, then it's even 
worse than having bad design. 

— Jean-Franqois Decaux 

Le Fresnoy media school, Tourcoing, 
France. Attic space used for work- 
shops and informal screenings and 
presentations. Courtesy Bernard 
Tschumi Associates. 

Pare de la Villette's design involves 
systems of movements and activity 
nodes that interact on several scales. 
Courtesy Todd W. Bressi. 

Can this type of leadership emerge in the U.S. government? In small ways it is 
beginning to appear. The architecture division of the federal government's General 
Services Administration, for instance, has devised a new process for selecting profes- 
sionals that rewards design ability rather than technical criteria, and other agencies are 
using charrettes and competitions to search for the best possible design ideas. The 
National Park Service has been noted not only for its architectural and landscape 
design but also for engineering and graphic design. And Amtrak (a government-spon- 
sored corporation) is completing a sensitive restoration of historic train stations on its 
Northeast Corridor line. 

At a grassroots level, countless groups across the country are espousing the virtues 
of historic preservation, river and creek restoration, neighborhood improvement, park 
development and other causes that highlight the importance of design. Such efforts 
have helped assure the passage of legislation and programs concerning environmental 
protection, historic preservation and community revitalization — and in turn these 
efforts have been boosted by federal support. 

Perhaps these separate enterprises can be woven into a broader constituency, a 
crescendo of voices that includes community leaders, consumers, business executives, 
builders, manufacturers, bureaucrats and design professionals. Together, these groups 
can insist on an agenda addressing design excellence that spans large-scale federal ini- 
tiatives to the tiniest neighborhood pocket park. 

Lesson Three: Initiate Activity at Many Scales 

What is remarkable about public service design is the wide range of scales at which it 
can occur: national monuments, city landmarks, neighborhood improvements, infras- 
tructure networks and more. Each establishes a public presence in its own way, and 
each poses its own challenge for design creativity. Public agencies should be aware of 
and attentive to this full range of opportunities and responsibilities. 

There is certainly a place for what the French call grands projets — the Louvre addi- 
tion and other endeavors that gain international attention. They can transform the 
dynamics of a city, as Bernard Tschumi's Pare de la Villette has in a formerly industrial 
section of Paris. And they can provide a sense of pride and identity, as did Kumamoto's 
Art Polis project and the improvements made for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. 

On the other hand, giving equal attention to less glamorous things — local muse- 
ums and exhibits, neighborhood schools, bus stations, the graphic identity of a small 
town, pocket parks, street furniture — is equally important. Barcelona spent the 
decade before the Olympics reinforcing its historic fabric by creating scores of catalyt- 
ic public spaces. In Paris, competitions are staged for housing projects and innovative 
"industrial hotels" on infill sites. Santiago Calatrava, famous for the way he melds 
architecture, art and engineering in bridge design, has lavished his talent on bus shel- 
ters, canopies, warehouses, balconies and other small-scale projects. 

At a grander scale, public design can create a cohesive image across the diverse 
regions of a country. During the nineteenth century, courthouses and customhouses 

Every project that government at any 
level undertakes should see itself as link- 
ing to a larger pattern, improving that 
pattern and helping inject life into it. 
This strategy can be embedded in pro- 
jects of the smallest scale and still have 
consequence. We see this obviously in 
the Barcelona examples; it also seems to 
be true of Pare de la Villette, where 
small actions configured within a larger 
picture inject energy into that place. 
— Donlyn Lyndon 

(Above left) Standard transporta- 
tion symbols developed by the 
U.S. Department of Transportation 
and the American Institute of 
Graphic Arts in the 1970s. 

(Above) Restoration of historic 
streetlight near Gaudi's Cathe- 
dral Sagrada Familia, Barcelona. 
Courtesy the city of Barcelona. 

(Left) Santiago Calatrava's com- 
munications tower for the 1992 
Olympics, Barcelona. Courtesy the 
city of Barcelona. 

Putting Preservation in Perspective 

Q.: What strikes me is the way European 
architects relate to their historic archi- 
tecture. It seems they see architecture as 
an evolving process, part of life begin- 
ning in the past and continuing today. 
Therefore, they use old buildings as a 
foundation upon which to build some- 
thing new, rather than something to 
protect to the point where any and all 
retrofitting is discouraged. 

Washington D.C. is a good example 
of the latter situation — if we're going 
to move ahead in doing excellent 
design work here, we need to look at 
the extent to which we are hampered 
by a paradigm of historic preservation, 
which does not allow progression. 

Roger K. Lewis: I've concluded that 
here in Washington, at least, we're in a 
period during which people are very 
concerned about our architectural lega- 
cy, young though it is. They are con- 

cerned not only because that legacy 
might be threatened today or next 
week, but also because of what might 
happen fifty or a hundred years from 
now. I think the preservation move- 
ment has its zealots, who are not 
always confronted. But at the same 
time there have been extraordinary 
abuses, and certainly in this city there 
were egregious abuses. There was a 
period when people were seriously talk- 
ing about taking down the old 
Executive Office Building and getting 
rid of the Old Post Office. 

Joan Goody: Do you think some of 
the preservation movement is a sign of 
a disappointment in the contemporary 
architecture that we produced in the 
1950s and 1960s? It's interesting that 
France produced as much terrible archi- 
tecture as we did in that period, by 
some admission it is even worse. While 

we retreated, their solution was to turn 
to competitions to try to get better con- 
temporary designs. Certainly what we 
saw is far more daring than most of our 
public or private sector design. 

Steven M. Davis: The reaction has 
been like a pendulum that has over- 
swung. We don't have the legacy that 
Europe has; we don't have a thousand 
years of fabulous building and construc- 
tion tradition to build on. More and 
more projects are going to position 
restoration in a more balanced perspec- 
tive, having to do with the need to ren- 
ovate those 1950s and 1960s buildings 
that are no longer doing their job. I 
spend most of my life right now trying 
to figure out what to do with the 
World Trade Center and its plaza, which 
are only 23 years old. 

established a federal presence throughout the United States. Today, transportation 
projects can accomplish this. The Swiss, for instance, devote a great deal of energy to 
road and signage design, studying problems from aesthetic, safety and environmental 
perspectives as they strive to create approaches that are locally sensitive while main- 
taining a national image of impeccable engineering. Postal agencies, the most ubiqui- 
tous public service, can pull the country together through the design of graphics, cus- 
tomer service and processing facilities, vehicles and, of course, mailboxes and stamps. 

Lesson Four: Today's Challenges are Similar to and Different from Yesterday's 

A theme that helped unify the symposium presentations was tradition. Some speakers 
noted that their countries' current commitment to quality design grows out of a deep 
cultural tradition. Kees Rijnboutt, The Netherlands' chief architect, and R. D. E. 
Oxenaar, his colleague from the Postal, Telegraph and Telephone system, tied recent 
developments in Dutch design to the Renaissance and the early twentieth century de 
Stijl movement. In France, the similarity between the grands projets and the pride that 
built the chateaux is evident. Barcelona's urban awakening and its celebration of the 
1992 Olympic games is the latest release of generations of Catalan creativity and energy. 

But if looking to the past provides useful precedents and a foundation for future 
work, another message was that tradition should also provide the confidence to explore 
new directions. The success of projects like the dramatic bridges and kinetic buildings by 
Santiago Calatrava and the visionary Pare de la Villette validate the importance of taking 
risks and encouraging innovation in the realm of public design. 

It will be important to mesh future design directions with the new challenges pub- 
lic projects face. We now demand much greater sensitivity to environmental and his- 
toric resources; should we also seek design that is reflective of (or created by) a wider 
segment of our diverse population? We are concerned about using design to advance 
improvements in economic and social conditions; how can this be meshed with aes- 
thetic considerations? We also require much more citizen involvement in reviewing 
designs (a factor that figured in the abandonment of Tschumi's la Villette-like plans for 
a park in Queens, New York); to what extent should public service design also involve 
public education about design and about the broader physical environment? 


Proposal for rebuilding Flushing 
Meadows-Corona Park, commissioned 
by New York City's parks depart- 
ment, was subject to exhaustive 
public review and ultimately did not 
win political support. 
Courtesy Bernard Tschumi Associates. 

Pare de la Villette is 125 acres and cost 
nearly $200 million. To hold together 
this energy, there must be somebody — 
a civil servant, politician or bureaucrat 
— with the authority to carry such a 
project to the end. In France, such peo- 
ple have the authority to determine a 
course of action without necessarily hav- 
ing to ask the opinion of 25 committees 
and local resident groups. This is a very 
tricky balance between democracy and 
authority; in America it would often be 
considered authoritarian. 

I was involved with a large park in 
New York City, Flushing Meadows Cor- 
ona Park. By the time we had developed 
a proposal, we had to appear in front of 
more than twenty committees. Each was 
not coordinated with the others, none 
had any political force or mandate to try 
to bring these groups together. It is, of 
course, very difficult to arrive at good 
design with this lack of focus. 

— Bernard Tschumi 

Proposal to convert Manhattan's for- 
mer General Post Office into a new 
Amtrak terminal has interested peo- 
ple who still recall the grandeur of 
McKim, Mead and White's Pennsyl- 
vania Station, demolished in the '60s. 
Courtesy Hellmuth, Obata, Kassabaum. 

Each year I teach an architecture studio 
that is made up of some of the most 
talented young people from around the 
world. Many of the foreign students, 
who are the top of their respective 
classes from wherever they might have 
come, plan to go back and work in gov- 
ernment offices — for the city, the tran- 
sit department, the PTT, or some other 
agency. They see excitement, innova- 
tion and possibility in the public sector 
there. Unfortunately, not many 
American students come to Harvard 
with the idea that when they graduate 
they are going to go get a job at their 
local redevelopment authority. 
— David Lee 

Similarly, there are new actors in design. One of the most promising directions is 
the creation of public-private partnerships, which have operated on many scales. They 
offer the promise of working more flexibly than traditional government agencies; in 
their financing and decision-making they often can take greater risks. But they also 
can blur the line between public and private, confusing citizens about their stake in the 
public realm. Privatization of government building construction or of the maintenance 
of our streets might produce effective, assured results, but it risks further undermining 
our confidence in the capacity of the public sector. 

America's challenge is restoring its healthy skepticism of government while shed- 
ding its cynicism about the public realm. We must recall our government's past sup- 
port of excellence in design, build a constituency for continuing this legacy and seek 
out leaders that support it. As this framework develops, we will be able to inaugurate a 
diversity of initiatives confronting the challenges of our cities and our suburbs, of new 
information and communications technologies, and of complex environmental prob- 
lems. Some of these efforts will be funded and developed at the federal level. Others 
will receive federal support but be worked out under regional and local jurisdictions. 
Still others will emerge entirely from local mandates for excellence. 

These contributions may be different from those promoted by the Founding 
Fathers, the Office of the Supervising Architect, the talents that emerged during the 
Beaux Arts Renaissance and the depression-era federal efforts involved with design. 
Nevertheless, they can suggest the pluralism of American democracy, foster a sense of 
pride and stewardship in the public realm and in public service, encourage human 
interaction, and reflect a balance aesthetically between tradition and innovation. If we 
look carefully enough, they will offer us the first glimpse of a new design tradition. 


1. Thomas Jefferson, as quoted in Benjamin Forgey, "The Jeffersonian Approach," The Washington 
Post, 19 December 1993, p. G2. 

2. It is telling, for instance, that the customhouse and post office in Portland, Oregon, was begun in 
1869 before that city of 9,000 people even had a railroad or paved streets. See Lois Craig, et al., The 
Federal Presence: Architecture, Politics and Symbols in United States Government Building (Cambridge, 
MA: MIT Press, 1978), 122. 

3. John L. Sneed, Kentucky Yeoman, 5 February 1884, as quoted in Craig, 167. 

4. Report of the Supervising Architect of the Treasury, 1901, as quoted in Craig, 236. 

5. For example, the Federal Triangle project (previously known as the International Cultural and 
Trade Center) in Washington, D.C., has been roundly criticized as the costs have almost doubled 
from $362 million to $656 million. See Kirstin Downey Grimsley, "Federal Triangle's Points of 
Contention; Delays, Rising Costs, Changing Concepts Beset Project," The Washington Post (5 
December 1993), p. Al. 

6. "Public Service Design Abroad" ran from 8-10 December 1993 in Washington, D.C. It was spon- 
sored by the National Endowment for the Arts, Design Program, with support from the General 
Services Administration, Public Buildings Service, the Department of the Interior, National Park 
Service, and the Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. 

7. Sir Richard Rogers, remarks at the Public Service Design Abroad conference, 10 December 1993. 



1. "Unigrid" used for National Park Service 
graphics and publications. 

2. Linn Cove Viaduct, Blue Ridge Parkway. 

3. Day care center in Social Security 
Administration building, Baltimore. 

4. 5. Proposed Southpoint Pavilion, Roose- 
velt Island, New York City. Design by Santi- 
ago Calatrava Vails • MitchellVGiurgola. 
(Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation) 

6. Stone griffin sculpture, part of a seven- 
mile project along I-476 in Radnor, PA. Photo 
by William Reimann. (Townscape Institute) 

7. Pershing Park, Washington, D.C. Photo by 
Carol M. Highsmith. (Pennsylvania Avenue 
Development Corporation) 

Photos courtesy National Endowment for 
the Arts unless indicated otherwise. 



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